Marketing at SXSW – Part 1

SXSW: Did you want fries with that?
SXSW: Did you want fries with that?

AdWeek has been taking a close look this year at using South by Southwest as an important marketing platform. The event used to be a music festival, but today it’s expanded to include three interactive, film and music components. It boasts over 72,000 attendees and performers, with 2,200 acts, which means a boatload of possibility for advertising, collaborating and exposure all in one place over a short period.

For one thing, it’s an appealing environment for marketers due to its heavy appeal to millennials – an important demographic for almost any brand to court. That’s especially true for industries with direct ties to the entertainment world, like music, film, television, radio and visual arts.

Then, of course, there’s McDonald’s. The fast-food chain has drawn some ire for its approach to advertising and engaging at SXSW. First it tried to “hire” a band but pay them in exposure (pro tip: never pitch this to professionals). Then it decided to sponsor one of many lounges, a food truck, a charging station and a party to woo the good graces of young festivalgoers. (This is like trying to get your stepkids to like you with promises of a new “Frozen” doll – it reeks of needy, but it might temporarily work.)

But does anyone even think twice about a McDonald’s food truck? Does making McDonald’s more mobile even help, when there’s one on every corner and people are still not eating it? What next, door to door delivery? (How about delivery done through a custom mobile app, where you earn points that add up to free “Frozen” dolls? You’ll be a cool stepmom yet, McDonald’s.)

Writer Tom Leake also makes an interesting argument that SXSW is such a sensory overload that it’s symbolically equivalent to the crowded world of competing media messages. Therefore, learning how to create unique messaging that stands out and resonates in this atmosphere is going to be an important exercise in marketing anytime, anywhere, for most brands.

But let’s be honest, most of us are not packing up and taking our advertising dollars to SXSW (as fun as that might be). So how do these ideas translate to your business?

Check out Part 2 of our South by Southwest marketing talk next week to find out.

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